The NHL is a checking league and always has been.
Gone should be the narrative that the NHL is purely a “speed” league. As the current Stanley Cup Champions – the Washington Capitals – have shown, it is a checking league. If you think its a speed league you’re dumb.
If I hear another rumdumb drone on about how the NHL is a speed league, I’m going to throat punch them for multiple reasons. 1) they likely can’t even describe to me what they mean by “speed” and 2) they’re just parroting a narrative some bald headed shitbird with a French name said while dodging pucks and trying to grab locks of Sidney Crosby’s hair for his shrine.
Lets unpack this. Speed has 2 meanings in hockey. First, physical speed of the players moving around the ice which is what I think most casual fans and even some die hard fans think of when they think “speed”. Second: mental speed. Now I use “mental speed” because I’m not articulate (drunk) enough to think of anything else…maybe let’s call it “team speed”. This team speed is what I believe is the more important of the 2 speeds – the ability to make quick decisions to move out of your own zone promptly and efficiently and then the ability to move the puck to a high danger scoring opportunity in the opposing teams zone. In essence physical speed is the ability to skate fast while team speed is the ability to mobilize your team as a unit and create scoring opportunities. BUT the real key to success of any hockey team is their ability to check.
Here again, checking may mean to many the ability to ram another player head on with some shoulder to shoulder contact that may have risen a bit and resulted in a broken jaw/concussion (I’m looking at you Tommy, you beaut). While this is a very exciting part of checking, it’s not the whole story. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “check” as: “a sudden pause or break in progression” and that’s about as accurate a definition for a hockey check as possible. Hockey checking includes stick checks, body checks, great defensive positioning, and good coaching. A teams ability to “check” each opposing player, whether they have the puck or not, is the most important trait successful teams have and can negate both physical and team speed. This year’s playoffs showed that a run and gun physical speed game alone will not work.
Look back at the 2017 playoffs in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Penguins, unfortunately, did a great job of shutting down the boards and hemming the Caps into their own zone, checking possession away from the Capitals in the offensive zone. If you look back to every Stanely Cup winner in recent history, their ability to check defensively and fore and back check effectively lead to offensive opportunities that ultimately won them the greatest trophy in sports.
While the NHL has definitely become a more skilled and physically quicker league, the evolved coaching strategies and emphasis on checking is the real key to sustained success. No matter how good you are, your entire team won’t ever be able to consistently burn NHL defensemen on the outside and bury. So at least stop parroting the narrative of a “speed” league and give credit to the real factor, which is team checking.
Or maybe I’m just trolling…